It's what one has come to expect this season from the Red Raiders, now 3-2, 1-1 Big 12 after a 44-38 loss to Kansas State on Saturday. Tech has scored 69, 59, 55 (twice) and 38 points this season, an average of 55.2 that ranks second in the country. That leads a wide open Big 12 that has just two unbeaten teams left in WVU and Baylor, while Oklahoma remains undefeated in conference play at 2-0.
"We are pretty familiar with Texas Tech," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's nice to have a bye week, but there's no more more bye weeks. We have to go eight straight now. Our team is in a good pace, They are healthy and the spirits are good. We got back to work this week, spent about 50 percent of the time on development last week and 50 percent on Texas Tech. They're unique in what they do. They play so fast and score so many points it's challenging."
The Raiders lead the NCAA in passing offense at 544 yards per game, far ahead of second-place Washington State's 381.4 per contest. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes ranks first in the nation in passing yards at 2,274, and has completed 166-of-228 passes (72.8 percent) with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging almost 10 yards per attempt. The junior has significantly increased his efficiency of play, and elevated his QB rating from 147 last season to 182 thus far this season.
"Mahomes keeps plays alive with what he does," Holgorsen said. "I know there was a concerted effort in the offseason to get him to run the offense more. (Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury) has been vocal about that. He's made a ton of improvement. He's so creative and talented and he can keep plays alive better than anybody I have seen. Just running the offense and making basic plays (has been a focus)."
On the opposite side, Texas Tech offers among the worst statistical and situational defenses in the FBS. The Raiders have allowed 68, 45 and 44 points to the three best teams they have played in Arizona State, Louisiana Tech and Kansas State, and have been unable to defend against the pass. It's allowed teams to strike vertically and across the face of the defense, where the linebackers have often lost wideouts with resulting chunks of yardage. The up-and-down pace has forced often forced teams out of a comfort zone, something Holgorsen is trying to avoid. While West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) will certainly take shots, it wants to use the run game as well, both within itself and to set-up the pass.
"We are trying to be more aggressive than we have been the last couple years," Holgorsen said. "I spent a decade trying to talk Mike (Leach) into punting and kicking the ball now and then. We have done a better job of understanding what you have to do to help your defense a bit. That said, we have to score more. We have not been scoring as much as we needed to. We are fortunate to be 4-0, but when you play teams like Texas Tech which are going to score 55-plus points, then maybe you need to take chances and go for it on fourth down.
"Maybe because there are so many points being scored, guys get impatient and try to get it back quick," he added. "We are throwing the ball deep a good bit, and that's because we have a good deep threat in Shelton Gibson. In addition, we are running it so much more that when they try to take it way it exposes people on the island. That's why we are doing it more."
Holgorsen said he has noticed defenses have increasing difficulty trying to cover more skilled receivers within the passing game. The reasons, he believes, are the increasing attendance at seven-on-seven camps and that more high schools across the country are utilizing spread sets. It's created a movement that has spread downward into youth leagues, with offensive players getting introduced to the concepts early.
"Its getting tougher and tougher," Holgorsen said. "The skill level out of high school is improving. I've noticed the increase on the east coast. We all know in Texas and Oklahoma it has been happening for years, but I've now noticed it on the east coast. The more skilled the receivers, the more on the same page they are with the quarterback, the harder it is to cover."
It's led to more scoring in the college game, and more pressure on defenses to perform over an ever-expanding number of plays. Eventually, the defenses typically wilt under such pressure, especially if teams can remain somewhat balanced and threaten with the run and pass to force individual match-ups in space. Texas Tech ran 91 plays to Kansas State's 59 last week, while WVU ran 76 in its 17-16 win over the Wildcats.
"One of the reasons Kansas State only had 59 is that they took a knee, had a pick six and returned a kick for a touchdown as well," Holgorsen said. "They got nine or 10 possessions, which is low, but that's what Kansas State does. A typical game against Tech you will be 14, 15, 16 possessions. How you do on those will determine how many plays. In a perfect world we'd like to get around 85-88 plays. We try to average one more yard per play than our opponent and we have done that in three of the first four games."